Vancouver Wine List Woes

Out-of-town getaways for my husband and I revolve around food exploration.  My favourite type of culinary adventure is the wine survey.  In the past three years, we’ve had the privilege of sipping at the heart of Provence, Napa, Sonoma, and the Okanagan.

Thornhaven: enjoying the view (by tiny bites)

Despite obvious differences in geography, wine-producing regions across the world seem to share a culture of humble vine worship.  Locals are passionate about their craft, knowledgeable about their terroir, and are more than willing to impart their wisdom and enthusiasm to neophytes.  Food stops in the area, from café to haute cuisine, serve table wines that rival some of the higher end bottles lauded in urban centres.   Wine in these regions are accessible; celebrated in daily life and shared often with family and friends.

Why, oh, why is this not the case in Vancouver?

All too often, I walk into a restaurant and cringe at the extravagant pricing of the wine list.  It’s not necessarily because the selections don’t merit distinction. I’m sure there’s a reason that a single bottle can run you over $100.  But I suspect some restaurants of choosing wines for their pomp or celebrity rather than a true appreciation of taste.

In these times of economic turmoil, should I be happy in spending more on my drink than my dinner? Should I be forced to choose only from celebrated wine regions at a hefty premium when there is excellent, moderately priced wine to be had from our own backyard?

It’s lists like these that make wine less accessible to the masses. Is that the goal – to make wine a thing only available to the elite? If so, then Vancouver’s doing a great job.  If, on the other hand, our food service industry does intend to head towards the European culture of daily wine devotion, then our wine purveyors should turn their noses down a little bit to see that average people want to enjoy wine, too.

Happily, there are spots of hope in the Vancouver wine scene.

Memphis Blues: Willowglen Petite Sirah & brisket sandwich combo (by tiny bites)

Memphis Blues, for the no-frills BBQ house that it is, does an excellent job of offering wines at an affordable budget that go surprisingly hand-in-hand with their meat-tastic selections.

Salt: flights of wine (by tiny bites)

Salt Tasting Room’s wine list goes around the world, but they temper higher-end choices with many low- to mid-range selections.  Tasting flights are available for $15 – a great deal for someone looking to expand their palate – and nearly half of their drink menu is available in 2oz single servings. In my experience, Salt’s wines are judiciously chosen to complement the restaurant’s assortment of meats and cheeses, which makes me confident that the occasional wine splurge at Salt would only enhance my dining experience.

Raincity Grill: wine, wine, and more wine (by tiny bites)

Last but not least is Raincity Grill, where Sommelier and General Manager Brent Hayman does his damnest to showcase exemplary wine of the Pacific Northwest.  Don’t expect to find Burgundy or Champagne here. Only BC, Washington, Oregon, and the northern tip of California get the spotlight – complete with maps, terroir notes, and many other educational tidbits embedded in the wine menu.

While the selections are not cheap by any means, the sticker price of bottles from these lesser-known regions is relatively digestible.  One can savour a truly uplifting glass for a fraction of the price than a corresponding bottle from the major wine regions of the world.

If Vancouver restaurants can follow the example of establishments such as these, perhaps the typical Vancouver diner will become less apprehensive about the frou-frou air of wine appreciation and begin to explore (and then demand) quality quaffing at affordable prices.

And, if you allow me to dream a little, perhaps our city can one day be like Paris, where a stroll into a neighbourhood café can net you a $10 bottle that tastes like liquid gold.


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